Hana's Lori Hashimoto Dishes on Brazilian Lobster, Magic Knives and Keeping It All in the Family
Hana Japanese Eatery
5542 N. Seventh Avenue
This is part one of my interview with Lori Hashimoto, co-owner and sushi chef of Hana Japanese Eatery. You can read part two of the interview with Lori Hashimoto of Hana Japanese Eatery here.
To understand Lori Hashimoto, you must begin with her name, a blending of American and Japanese -- like Hashimoto herself. At first blush, she seems like an outgoing all-American woman but get her around her mother Kinue and her stepfather Kazuto Kishino (who help her operate the restaurant) and she becomes a soft-spoken Japanese daughter whose every word is deferential. She is two people and wears both personas well.
Hashimoto grew up in the Southeast Valley, taking a job at Bangkok Express in Tempe after high school, where the self-described "meat and potatoes girl" began taking an interest in more sophisticated fare. "Her food was phenomenal, like crack" says Hashimoto of her Thai boss. "She made me try things. She changed me forever." Hashimoto stayed there for two years, working as busgirl, cashier and manager before earning an associates degree in Social Work at Mesa Community College.
But social work was too depressing, so she took a job as "lab rat" for a nutriceutical company, working her way up to GM of the plant 15 years later. She was bringing in the big bucks but not feeling particularly fulfilled.
Hana's lobster tempura.
Meanwhile, Hashimoto's brother Rick (now a sushi chef at Hana) had been working under a handful of Benihana alums who schooled him in Japanese sushi tradition. "We're as close as a brother and sister can be without it being weird," Hashimoto says. So when he started pestering her to open a Japanese restaurant (a dream she'd always harbored), she listened.
When she also noticed that her stepfather (former executive chef for Ayako of Tokyo) was unhappy at the Chandler sushi bar where he worked, she knew she had to take the plunge. She approached her friend Lynn Becker and suggested they go into business together. "We built this place for my parents," she says.
The rest of Phoenix is grateful.
When Hana opened, Hashimoto ran the front of the house, winding up behind the sushi bar by default. The family couldn't find serious apprentices, so she jumped in to help: cleaning and organizing but never touching anything. Only watching. A year later, she started decorating plates -- a drizzle of ponzu here, a bit of daikon there. That was another year. One day, her brother (who, she maintains, is often "a dick when he's back there") encouraged her to cut a piece of fish.